Special relationship between the Fire and Rescue service and the RSPCA?

Writing in response to a criticism of the police for sending ten officers to rescue a confused seal by Richard Littlejohn, Chris Hobbs asked:

“In addition to the police, the fire brigade were also present. Should they have been or should they have been reserving their skills for real fires or pulling people out of road accidents?”

and went on to say:

“The emergency services refusing to help a stranded seal who eventually dies a slow and agonising death in a farmer’s field would be a master class of PR wouldn’t it?”

No mention of the self proclaimed emergency service for animals, the RSPCA. No question of where their trained seal experts had disappeared to, or why the money the public donates appears to have failed to produce an emergency RSPCA response service that can act without the need for police officers or members of the fire service to do the job for them?

There have been many criticisms of the special relationship between the RSPCA and the police.

For instance, the Wooler Report took on board the SHG submission and noted that the RSPCA ‘piggy backing’ on police powers by passes the important safeguards imposed on both local authorities and the police. Each has internal complaints procedures that culminate in independent external bodies, the IPCC and the local government ombudsman.

But what of the special relationship between the Fire Service and the RSPCA?

The Chief Fire Officers’ Association (CFOA) has a Memorandum of Understanding with the RSPCA. The CFOA has committed to sharing the MoU, and encouraging its adoption, with every member of the Association who sit within every fire and rescue service within the UK.

Although the CFOA has no authority to ensure Fire and Rescue services compliance with the MoU it is clear that they are expected to adopt it.

Adherence to the MoU, which details how the Fire and Rescue Service can, if they deem it appropriate, charge members of the public for their services rescuing animals, but should never charge the RSPCA the full rate, have led to confusion and complaints that the Fire and Rescue service is wasting public money and resources by attending animal rescues at the behest of the RSPCA. On one occasion the Fire and rescue service sent two fire engines to provide light so that the RSPCA could continue an investigation in the dark. No-one thought to ask why an RSPCA investigation team had no lights or torches with them.

Some Fire and Rescue services are refusing to turn out to rescue animals unless they are asked by the RSPCA. Others say that the reason they undertake animal rescues is to prevent members of the public from attempting a rescue and putting themselves in danger.

All will turn out without being asked by the RSPCA if a member of the public is already attempting a rescue that could endanger them or is already in difficulties.

This raises an important question. Who should be responsible for Fire and Rescue Service policy in any local area? Unelected charities like the RSPCA and the CFOA deciding who will respond to calls for help from the public and who will pay? Or should local government make the decision?

Is this really the way the policies that govern our public services should be determined?